John Aeschbury Named as United Seminary’s 2022 Distinguished Alum

John Aeschbury
here are a lot of reasons these days to be discouraged about progress toward justice. The relationships are deeply encouraging. I am so happy to be in the fight for justice with all these people.” — John Aeschbury

(St Paul, MN) — September 8, 2022 – Rev. John Aeschbury, a 1985 alum of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, is the executive director of DART (Direct Action and Research Training) in Florida and has spent decades on the front lines of social justice activism. He will be formally honored during the 60th Anniversary event, “Many Voices United,” on September 28, 2022.

In the late 1980s, moved to more fully live out his call to do justice, John gathered clergy and lay leaders in Ohio to organize what became Leaders for Equity and Action in Dayton (LEAD). Later in the 1990s, he founded B.R.E.A.D. (Building Responsibility, Equity, and Dignity) in Columbus. Both organizations are now part of DART’s network.

DART’s mission is to engage congregations in doing justice. DART is rooted in diverse faith traditions and creates a space where members can find common ground in values of justice and fairness. DART trains community leaders and professional organizers to build power and take direct action on problems facing their communities, so that all people are treated with the respect and dignity that various faith traditions tell us they deserve. Congregations learn to advocate for justice and policy changes on the local and statewide level.

Through the work of DART, hundreds of clergy and thousands of lay people have gotten involved in justice ministry. Since 2013, under John’s executive leadership, DART has grown from 20 affiliates in six states to 31 affiliates in ten states. Currently more than 600 congregations are part of DART and the network continues to grow so that the work of justice might continue to flourish.

Reflecting on the work of DART in Florida, alums Revs. Judy (’86) and Brian (’96) Bagley-Bonner write, “DART is doing an inspiring and powerfully effective job of ‘doing justice.’ ” Judy and Brian’s church, Faith UCC in Bradenton, was a founding member of the DART affiliate in Manatee County, Florida. They write, “We watched DART stretch the perspectives of our congregants, light them with the flame of justice, and change unjust policies in Manatee County.”

Ultimately, what is most important to John and his colleagues in DART are the people they engage. Of his work John writes, “I started as a full-time community organizer in Dayton, Ohio in 1990. Since that time, I have worked with grassroots leaders and organizers on any number of winning campaigns that addressed serious community problems related to housing, education, crime, healthcare, and payday lending, among others.”

He continues, “The issue victories are tremendous. What is just as important are the relationships with grassroots people in Dayton, Columbus, and now all the cities of the DART network. There are a lot of reasons these days to be discouraged about progress towards justice. The relationships are deeply encouraging. I am so happy to be in the fight for justice with all these people.”

In a letter of support for John’s nomination, Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, writes, ”John Aseschbury is a community organizer of the first rank. He has found effective ways to translate our common passion for social justice into concrete community-based transformative action. Not only is he wise about such work, but in his quiet way he is effective in mobilizing, equipping, and supporting others to do the work as well. He is deeply church based, but manages to open his work to move beyond the church for the sake of the community.”

He is, Dr. Brueggemann adds, “of course, a person of high integrity, deep faith, and honest conviction, all marks that make him a winsome candidate for the award. In honoring John, the seminary will surely bring honor to itself. I commend him for this award with immense enthusiasm.”

The Bagley-Bonners, who nominated John for the award, have reflected on how well he has lived up to the biblical mandate “to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” Thankfully, there are those, like John, who dedicate their entire ministry to equipping the church to fulfill this call and inspire others to claim this view.




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